When Gulfport baseball assistant Justin Edwards found out from Daniel Best that he was stepping down at Vancleave to take over the Brandon program, he knew he wanted to be his replacement.
“My eyes lit up immediately,” Edwards said. “I asked what kind of plan they might have and he said he had already mentioned my name to (Vancleave athletic director Matt Walters). I started making phone calls and making contacts.”
On Monday night, Edwards was approved by the Jackson County school board to become the next Vancleave High School baseball coach.
“Oh man, I'm excited,” Edwards said Monday night. “I've been kind of waiting on the school board. I've already been over there getting to work and meeting some people. I'm really pumped up.”
Edwards, 31, spent the last six seasons as an assistant under Jamie McMahon, helping build the Admirals into a state championship contender over the last two years.
McMahon believes Vancleave landed the right man.
“He has the work ethic, the passion for the game and he wants to get better,” McMahon said. “He's good with the kids and he's got baseball knowledge. He's great with the way he interacts with the kids. He's ready to do his own thing.”
In McMahon, Edwards believes he had the perfect mentor to become a head coach.
“I honestly feel like I worked under the best coach around in Jamie McMahon at Gulfport,” he said. “He was my mentor. He taught me so much about baseball and the ins and outs of what it takes to a run a program. You have to tell the players how much you care. Watching him for the last six years, I learned so much.
“He was one of the first people I called to tell I was interested in the job and he couldn't have been more supportive.”
Like Best, Edwards offers experience as a former Division I baseball player. Best was an All-American pitcher at Southern Miss and Edwards was an infielder at the University of New Orleans from 2008-09 following a standout stint at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Edwards is a Coast native, having graduated from Gulfport's St. John High School, which merged with Mercy Cross to form St. Patrick in 2007.
At Vancleave, Edwards takes over a program that won its first state championship in Best's lone season as head coach. The Bulldogs made an undefeated run through the postseason and swept New Hope in the Class 4A state title series to finish 29-7.
“You hear so much about the Vancleave community and the people,” Edwards said. “As long as I've been around the Gulf Coast, it's been a great program. I know it just won its first state championship, but year in and year out, those kids compete. They have good kids that are hard-nosed and come after you. That's the type of program that you want to coach.”
Vancleave won its first state title on the strength of a deep and talented senior class, leaving Edwards to replace much of the production from the 2017 squad.
“We lost some talent, but culture never graduates,” he said.
Edwards plans to lead a Vancleave baseball program that will have an aggressive approach to the game.
“I like to attack the game and go get it instead of waiting for the game to come to me,” Edwards said. “We'll have a very offensive mindset at the plate and we'll develop strike throwers that attack hitters. There will be controlled chaos on the base paths. We'll be an aggressive ball club. I like to free them up and let them be athletes. That's the style I like.”